Spark MicroGrants–Empowering Communities to Help NGOs Work

Sasha Fisher

Sasha with the community.
Sasha with the community. | Source

Making a Difference

Spark MicroGrants, an organization now growing rapidly in its fourth year of helping African communities help themeselves, a New York City based NGO, was originally conceived as an idea by Teddy Svoronos.

While working with health workers as a Fulbright Scholar in Tanzania, Svoronos began to envision Spark as method for empowering communities to help NGOs work more effectively.

"Too often," the leaders of Spark believe, according to their mission statement, "communities in the world’s poorest countries sit on the sidelines of their own development. Instead, responsibility tends to lie with international NGOs to plan and implement projects that they determine are most needed.... communities are viewed as beneficiaries, not partners."

Svoronos felt that, in order to be fulling effective, aid organizations needed to tap into the "ingenuity, drive, and intimate knowledge of their environment" native to local communities.

Thus, Spark was born.

Their goal is not to compete with local NGOs dealing with dangerous local issues such as poor nutrition, a lack of clean water and the unavailability of adequate health services, but to work with them to encourage communities to take control.


Spark has come up with an ingenious method for sparking local ownership of solutions.

Instead of funding and leading programs, Spark approaches communities to solicit ideas concerning local challenges. They then sponsor contests in which the winner receives a small grant intended to enable him or her to establish a pilot to test their ideas.

In a story on their web page, Spark reports:

"The first Microgrant project began in August 2009 in Ilolangulu, Tanzania, where 70% of pregnant women deliver at home instead of a clinic. This is a dangerous status quo – without a skilled health worker, any complications will likely lead to the mother or newborn’s death. Mama Jesinala and Mary, two health workers at Ilolangulu's clinic, proposed offering free diapers and soap to women who come to their clinic to deliver. With nominal assistance, these two women wrote the first proposal of their lives, refined it, and received four months worth of funding. Deliveries at their clinic increased almost immediately. With the Microgrant beginning in mid-October, Ilolangulu's clinic went from 10 deliveries in September to 35 in December. Just $615 delivered soap and diapers to about 200 pregnant women and gathered evidence to evaluate their strategy."

Over the next five years, Spark intends to develop a standard model and is moving swiftly ahead with current initiatives.

In 2011, Sasha Fisher, before embarking for Africa a resident of Roosevelt Island in New York City and a recent graduate of the University of Vermont with a self-styled major in Human Insecurities, launched Project Bloom.

A trim, energetic, seemingly always smiling Fisher will oversee MicroGrant competitions in Uganda and Rwanda.

The Rwanda competition will focus on efforts to help street children in Kigali, the capital, and the Uganda competition will be concerned with rural women's issues.

You can read more about Spark MicroGrants at by following this link.

While there, please note that Spark, like all organizations of its kind, is constantly in need of donations and open to collaboration as well.

If the spirit moves you, the young, vigorous and creative organization offers an exciting chance for anyone to get involved.

The Microgrant Story

Microgrants: It's Working
Microgrants: It's Working

A history of microgrants and their success in helping communities help themselves.


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